Our Acting with Purpose program is designed to provide a socially rewarding recreational activity in a mutually-‐supportive environment while also teaching our students how fundamental acting techniques can help them understand and operate within the complex and shifting social situations that arise in their daily lives. In brief, we are giving our students tools to take an analytical approach to situations that other children tend to approach intuitively.
By bringing together students with similar deficits in an environment that is not typically clinical, we provide a fun, challenging and structured interactive activity in which they can participate without fear of teasing, rejection or ridicule. Throughout the session, the group is encouraged to work together to create and follow rules of behavior that make for a safe, respectful environment that encourages open exchange of ideas and the taking of social risks.
The first activities focus on developing the students’ awareness of the actor’s tools at their disposal: facial expression, body language and vocal tone. The curriculum for these sessions is designed to get students thinking actively about how they can use these tools to send messages about what they are thinking and feeling and to practice reading the messages that others are sending them. We also work extensively on using non-‐verbal communication to facilitate cooperative play. Cooperative games are used to develop students’ ability to think about shared imaginative experiences as a way to understand the perspective of others.
Next, we introduce the fundamental actor’s questions:
Who am I?
Who are the people with me?
Where are we?
We use these questions—which must be asked by every actor when first encountering a new scene—to give our students practice in evaluating social context. Activities challenge the students to think actively about these questions and how the answers can give them important information about what kinds of behavior are expected or appropriate in a given circumstance. Time is also spent thinking about the effect unexpected behavior can have on the thoughts and feelings others will develop toward the participants in that behavior.